Before 6:00 rolled around this morning, KK & PK had taken off to explore the beauty of Bryce Canyon National Park. While they were watching the sunrise, the rest of us slept in, and opted to meet them for breakfast around 9:00.
They spent over two hours visiting a number of the scenic lookouts, taking short walks, and snapping pictures. KK was surprised with how few people he saw this morning. There were only 2 or 3 other cars out when they went for their sunrise drive. We also thought that Zion was not particularly busy. Wouldn’t this be the high season for National Park visitors?
I had never even heard of Bryce Canyon National Park before planning this trip. So, what is it? It is a small geographical area that has just the right rock composition, precipitation, and weather to create a “hoodoo”. Go ahead and say it – hoodoo – I know you want to.
Bryce Canyon and its magical hoodoos are a unique physical attraction found nowhere else in the world. The hoodoos are created by freeze/thaw cycles. Bryce Canyon averages 200 such days each year, where the temperature will fall and rise above freezing. I also find it interesting to note that it is not a canyon at all, but rather is made up of a series of over a dozen amphitheatres.
When 9:00 did roll around, we met for breakfast at Bryce Canyon Pines. This was recommended by the clerk at the Zion Gift Shop yesterday. We all had a great meal, and the prices were the most reasonable we have had on our trip.
KK & PK went back to the motel to freshen up after breakfast, while the rest of us set off to do some hiking at the Park. When trying to decide which trail to take, we couldn’t help but notice that one of them was labeled as “The World’s Best Three Mile Hike”. I believe our search is over.
As we began our hike down into the amphitheatre, the population of the other tourists could be described as 75% Asian, and 25% Other. It was incredible! I would like to see more Americans at our National Parks, but if we’re not going to enjoy them, at least somebody is.
Part of our trail was closed due to some erosion, but we still got the large majority of it in. We did still get to view Thor’s Hammer, which is probably the most iconic of all the hoodoos at the Park.
The trail also led us through a part of the Park that had very few hoodoos in it at all, which was surprising. But it did have plenty of pine trees, and they smelled mountain fresh.
We wore our matching pink vacation t-shirts today. We received our most comments yet on our appearance. All favorable, of course! It got to the point where once when a family met us on the trail and said, “Good morning”, I responded with “Thank You”. I told the kids I could tell that other family was thinking to themselves, “Those are some darn good looking t-shirts”.
Marissa has reverted back to her original position on hiking, which is “Are we almost done?” instead of the new attitude, which I preferred, of “I love hiking!”. She was really dragging the last half of the trail. I am now beginning to suspect that this is all just a rouse to get more ice cream. And it wouldn’t surprise me if her brother and sister were in on it, too. I will be keeping an eye on them.
After we completed our hike, we made a quick visit to the Bryce Canyon Lodge. This lodge was built in 1925, three years before Bryce Canyon became a National Park. It was built by the Union Pacific Railroad to encourage tourism in the area. It worked! This was a great old lodge, with a rustic design. It looked great in its setting.
As we got back in the van, I noticed that Mallory had to tell Marissa which side of the vehicle to get in on. Except for one small period of one day during this entire vacation, Marissa has sat in the same seat in the van. I found it amusing that on Day 7, she still needs assistance to find which side of the vehicle to get in.
While we were hiking the hoodoos, KK and PK went to the General Store and bought PK some new hiking boots. While there, they did a fair amount of visiting with the locals. KK had commented about all of the Europeans we had seen on the trip, and he was told that the state of Utah advertises heavily in Europe. It worked!
We all met back at the Visitor’s Center at 1:00 to take advantage of one of the Astronomy Festival activities – the chance to view the sun through a telescope. This was an activity that Miles had lobbied hard for us to do. Several volunteers had brought their telescopes, with special filters, to the Park to let the visitors take a peek.
We had to fight the clouds a little bit, but we all did finally get to see it in the telescope. What we saw were solar prominences coming out from the surface of the sun. As the astronomer explained it to me, this is just ionized hydrogen gas, which escapes the surface, then can get sucked back in. We may not ever see a solar prominence again, so it was a neat experience for all of us.
No trip to a National Park is complete without helping finance their gift shop. The Visitor’s Center & Gift Shop at Bryce Canyon is small, but very nice. While there, both Mallory and Marissa earned their Junior Ranger. They have now completed three of these so far on this trip. Way to go, girls!
Before we left the Visitor’s Center, the most bizarre thing happened. Stephanie recognized an old friend that she went to Basic Training & Tech School with back in 1991. We had not seen her or her husband since 1995 when they stopped by our house in Tulsa. It was a great little reunion. They are touring the Southwest on motorcycles and had visited several of the places we will soon visit. And likewise, we told them about some stops they will soon by making that we have already made.
While we did enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park, we all agreed that Zion is still our favorite. We feel like we saw everything we needed to at Bryce Canyon in less than a day, but we could spend a week at Zion.
On the way out of Bryce Canyon City, KK and PK decided to stop for ice cream. Hmmmm, we haven’t had ice cream in about 24 hours, so we joined them. So far, we have done nothing to discourage Marissa’s barter of ice cream for finishing a hike.
Our next stop was Torrey, Utah. Our route would take us on Highway 12, which is an All American Scenic Byway. I had been looking forward to this since before the trip, and I was not disappointed.
The first half or so of the journey was spectacularly uninteresting, and I was curious how the highway achieved its distinction. But when we stopped for a pit stop in Escalante, at the Escalante National Monument Visitor’s Center, they told us the fun was just beginning. The real beauty of this road is between Escalante and Torrey. Bring it on!
They were not kidding. The landscape was surreal. Much of the highway was built by the CCC, and it was commonly referred to as the Million Dollar Road. It took a lot of manpower, ingenuity, and dynamite to complete.
We stopped at nearly every scenic turnout and took pictures, and read the Information Displays. The rocks were breathtaking, and as we traveled North, we gradually left the mainly rocky geography into a mountainous area, complete with pine trees and aspen.
This part of Utah also subscribes to the idea of open range cattle, much like the town of Chinle, Arizona, as we found out earlier in this trip. There are cattle guards across the highway in numerous locations, and the cattle are free to roam across the highway wherever they want. The cattle were plentiful, as were the mule deer. We had to slow to a crawl once or twice to allow a deer to cross the road in front of us.
We drove through some really rugged terrain as we neared Torrey. At one of the roadside stops, there was a sign that said this area of Utah was the last region in the continental United States to be mapped and surveyed. It was not until 1872 that the area was thoroughly charted.
We pulled into Torrey before 6:30 and the entire crew was ecstatic with the early arrival time. Steph and the kids hit the pool while I drove KK and PK to the General Store to pick up some hamburger meat. We grilled burgers in the parking lot of our motel, with an awesome view of the valley and mountains in the distance. We spent the entire evening outside in lawn chairs, doing some serious socializing.
I stayed up for a while and worked on the blog outside after the rest of the crew retired inside. Before I came in, it was pitch black outside, and even with the glare of the motel lights behind me, I could easily see the Milky Way. Two nights in a row! I am loving Southern Utah.